For what they’re worth, the winter standings
The offseason is just about over, and today we take a look at where the 30 teams rank after their moves. We know from last year - when the Red Sox acquired Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez - that “winning’’ December and January doesn’t mean you win when it counts.
1. ANGELS - The signing of Albert Pujols brings their lineup together. They have a force in the middle. The reports are encouraging on Kendrys Morales’s comeback from a broken leg. They have a top-rate starting rotation after the signing of C.J. Wilson. The concern: sophomore closer Jordan Walden.
2. YANKEES - If Brian Cashman traded away, in his words, “the next Miguel Cabrera’’ in Jesus Montero, he could afford to do it. The Yankees have a run-producing lineup, and the prediction here is that Alex Rodriguez will rebound with a monster season. There are potentially eight starting pitchers, with the additions of youthful Michael Pineda and innings-eater Hiroki Kuroda. They have a very good bullpen. They will start spring training as a championship-caliber team.
3. RANGERS - They have been to the World Series two straight years and lost, so they have a team built for the postseason. Japanese phenom Yu Darvish and the filthy Neftali Feliz bolster the starting rotation. Not much has changed with their explosive lineup. And the bullpen, even without Feliz, should be terrific if closer Joe Nathan’s injury problems are behind him.
4. CARDINALS - Yes, big voids left by Pujols, manager Tony La Russa (retired), and pitching coach Dave Duncan (leave of absence). But the Cardinals adjusted nicely by moving right fielder Lance Berkman to first base and signing Carlos Beltran, a terrific all-around hitter. They also regain 20-game winner Adam Wainwright in an already stacked rotation.
5. TIGERS - Again, we can use the Sox example that adding big-time hitters doesn’t guarantee success. But the Tigers, who were already favored to win the AL Central, replaced Victor Martinez (out for the year with a torn ACL) with Prince Fielder. A Fielder-Cabrera middle of the order could be monstrous. The Tigers will be fine if Cabrera handles third base well and doesn’t hurt himself there. They will miss V-Mart’s clubhouse leadership, but the starting pitching is solid with Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Doug Fister, and Max Scherzer as the front four. They could have used a little more bullpen help.
6. PHILLIES - General manager Ruben Amaro gets some heat for giving Jonathan Papelbon such a large contract (four years, $50 million), but you have to admire Amaro’s decisiveness. He knows what he wants and he goes out and gets it. He doesn’t let anyone beat him to the player he wants. The Phillies have a very good rotation even with Roy Oswalt gone. Vance Worley should make up for him, and Joe Blanton is a formidable fifth starter. They added Ty Wigginton to man first base while Ryan Howard recovers from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. Juan Pierre was a late signing (minor league deal) that could bear fruit.
7. RED SOX - They don’t look as good on paper as they did at this time last year, and that may be a good thing. Papelbon is a significant loss, but they feel that adding two end-of-the-bullpen arms in Mark Melancon, 26, and Andrew Bailey, 27, will suffice. Bailey needs to stay healthy. The Sox go into the season with a funny situation at shortstop, where heavy-legged Mike Aviles and utility man Nick Punto could platoon. Crawford will start the season on the disabled list after wrist surgery, but Cody Ross’s righthanded pop should help. A healthy Kevin Youkilis is key to the fortunes of this team, and a big question is whether Daniel Bard can become an outstanding starting pitcher.
8. DIAMONDBACKS - General manager Kevin Towers, once again, had a good offseason. For starters, he traded for Trevor Cahill. The stats people don’t like the fact that he replaced Gerardo Parra in left with Jason Kubel, but Towers understands chemistry and intangibles as well as any GM. He managed to get Joe Saunders - a pitcher who works for this team - back as the fourth starter at relative low money ($6 million).
9. REDS - GM Walt Jocketty made moves that indicate the Reds were a little sick of the way things have been going down, and they’re happy to take advantage of St. Louis’s and Milwaukee’s offseason losses. They added closer Ryan Madson on a one-year, $8 million deal. They traded for Mat Latos to strengthen their rotation. They seem poised to make a legitimate run in the NL Central.
10. RAYS - They’ve added power by re-signing Carlos Pena to play first base and Luke Scott to DH. They may have disrupted chemistry by not re-signing Johnny Damon. But, like the Yankees, they have eight starting pitchers to choose from. They have begun to rebuild the bullpen, and before spring training begins, they’ll likely have a superb team again.
11. INDIANS - GM Chris Antonetti has done a nice job trying to push this team upward with strategic moves. He is gambling that the oft-injured Grady Sizemore will finally emerge. Ditto with Travis Hafner. He added veteran Derek Lowe to the staff - a guy who has to be good for Justin Masterson - and acquired Kevin Slowey for depth.
12. MARLINS - They have a new stadium, a new manager (Ozzie Guillen), and a new status: contender. They made some big moves, adding the talented Jose Reyes, switching Hanley Ramirez to third base, signing lefty Mark Buehrle to solidify a decent starting rotation, and signing Heath Bell to close.
13. BRAVES - They have enough pitching to stay in any race. They were the “other’’ team that suffered a major September collapse, but they didn’t do much fixing of personnel. Rather, they hope their younger players get better and that Chipper Jones stays healthy.
14. NATIONALS - When it comes to what to expect from this team, the word is “intriguing.’’ Stephen Strasburg will be back from Day One. Sometime this season, they will unveil phenom Bryce Harper. Strategic additions were made in Gio Gonzalez, Mike Cameron, and Brad Lidge.
15. GIANTS - GM Brian Sabean does a nice job rebuilding teams, and we’ll see if he’s done so again. He was looking for offense, so he traded fourth starter Jonathan Sanchez to the Royals for Melky Cabrera, who should improve the defense in right field and add to the offense. Angel Pagan, acquired from the Mets, also should improve the outfield defense. The biggest move: Buster Posey returns.
16. BREWERS - The loss of Fielder and the pending 50-game suspension of Ryan Braun for PEDs will set this team back a tad, but the addition of third baseman Aramis Ramirez helps. They still have good pitching to carry them through the tough times, and that’s why you can’t rule them out for a defense of their NL Central crown.
17. BLUE JAYS - They focused on their bullpen, adding Sergio Santos, Francisco Cordero, Darren Oliver, and Jason Frasor. They didn’t go the extra mile to add an impact bat like Fielder, and their rotation remains the same. In a tough division, the Jays may not have gained much ground.
18. DODGERS - For a team about to be sold for $1.5 billion-$1.7 billion, they did some revamping - letting almost a dozen players go - and last week made a very strong bid to shock the world with a Fielder signing. They did tie up Matt Kemp for eight years and will soon decide whether they should do the same with right fielder Andre Ethier. For a team that had so much chaos around it, the Dodgers held up well the second half of last season and look to build on that. They added back-end starters Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang.
19. ORIOLES - Dan Duquette has always been a good team builder, and he is starting out well here. He improved the rotation by adding Wei-Yin Chen and Tsuyoshi Wada from the Asian market and brought in corner infielder/DH Wilson Betemit, catcher Taylor Teagarden for defense behind Matt Wieters, and Endy Chavez for the outfield. Next step may be to add a veteran DH like Damon. The hope is that the pitching comes around and by this time next year Duquette will have added a significant piece.
20. WHITE SOX - Ken Williams said something very interesting at the general managers meetings in November: His team has always been able to pull off rebuilding and contending at the same time. He may have a point. He traded Carlos Quentin, did not re-sign Buehrle, and dealt young closer Santos, and the White Sox still have a pretty good rotation and a decent bullpen.
21. CUBS - Theo Epstein has achieved part of his goal, ridding himself of some contracts that were sucking the life out of this franchise. He makes no bones about rebuilding. He shipped Carlos Zambrano to Miami for Chris Volstad, signed David DeJesus from Oakland, and traded with Colorado for Ian Stewart. He didn’t re-sign Aramis Ramirez or Pena, and recently acquired Anthony Rizzo as his first baseman of the future. Long way to go, but Epstein is resisting the temptation to spend.
22. ROCKIES - Nobody was busier than Dan O’Dowd this offseason. He signed hard-nosed Michael Cuddyer for right field, traded for Marco Scutaro for second base, and sent Huston Street to San Diego, Chris Iannetta to the Angels, Stewart to the Cubs, Wigginton to the Phillies, and Seth Smith to the A’s. O’Dowd not only improved his major league team but added chips to his farm system.
23. ROYALS - They are banking on their younger players continuing to mature, which is why they were able to deal Melky Cabrera for lefty Sanchez - knowing Lorenzo Cain could do the job. They acquired Jonathan Broxton for the back end of the bullpen, but their rotation remains too short for them to make an impact in the AL Central.
24. MARINERS - This is an emerging team, and it added a monster bat in Montero, something that was sorely needed in the middle of the order. The price was high (Pineda), but they offset that by acquiring Hector Noesi, the young righty whom Cashman was extremely high on. In what has become a tough division, the Mariners will be better and could be a spoiler team.
25. TWINS - They lost 99 games, and went back to Terry Ryan as their GM. They are banking on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau to have bounce-back seasons after being injured. They are entrusting Matt Capps with the closer’s job, with possible help from Joel Zumaya. They replaced Kubel and Cuddyer with Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit, and will let Ben Revere fly on his own in the outfield.
26. PIRATES - This team continues to evolve, and GM Neil Huntington keeps tweaking to at least get up to that elusive .500 mark (this is Year 20). He improved at shortstop with Clint Barmes and at catcher with the steady Rod Barajas. He brought back outfielder Nate McLouth in hopes he can find his best years, and added Erik Bedard to the rotation.
27. METS - They lost their most exciting player (Reyes) and their best hitter (Beltran), so established players like David Wright and Jason Bay have to bounce back. They dealt Pagan to the Giants for outfielder Andres Torres, and added bullpen pieces in Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, and Ramon Ramirez. Johan Santana returns from a major shoulder injury, but what are you getting?
28. PADRES - Josh Byrnes took over as GM for Jed Hoyer and made some moves to change things for the financially strapped team, which lost closer Bell. Byrnes acquired Quentin from the White Sox, and got promising first base prospect Yonder Alonso from the Reds in the Latos deal, which also brought in righty Edinson Volquez.
29. ATHLETICS - They have spent the offseason selling off: Cahill to the D-Backs, Gonzalez to the Nationals, Bailey to the Red Sox. And they lost Willingham and DeJesus in free agency. They re-signed Coco Crisp and added Bartolo Colon. Outfielder Josh Reddick came in the Bailey deal. There is word that Manny Ramirez will be their DH after he serves his 50-game suspension.
30. ASTROS - New owner, new rebuilding program. They wanted to get rid of some of their bigger contracts but haven’t been able to deal Carlos Lee, Wandy Rodriguez, or Brett Myers. They acquired Jed Lowrie from the Red Sox to play shortstop, Jack Cust as a bat off the bench, and veteran backstop Chris Snyder. They expect a painful season.
Apropos of nothing
1. I think Cody Ross will take the Red Sox’ right field job permanently once Carl Crawford returns. They need his righthanded power full-time.
2. It’s funny that in business and in family life, you have a budget. But when you apply the concept to the Red Sox, people are outraged.
3. Former Sox lefty Dustin Richardson, who has his last name tattooed on his back, was nailed for using five banned substances and is under suspension for 50 games. He was first seen in the 2006 documentary series “Knight School,’’ in which walk-on players attempted to make Bobby Knight’s basketball team at Texas Tech. The 6-foot-6-inch Richardson, a Texas Tech baseball player, advanced to the finals and would have made the team, but Knight knew he was going to play pro baseball.
4. The Red Sox have switched clubhouse managers. Longtime home clubbie Joe Cochran has moved to the visitors side, while visitors clubbie Tommy McLaughlin will be on the home side.
5. Yes, he has had physical and anxiety issues, but Hong-Chih Kuo seems like a good gamble. Right now, three West Coast teams are kicking the tires on him. The former Dodgers lefty once had electric stuff, even with five elbow surgeries (including two Tommy Johns).
6. Think the Red Sox should have signed Ryan Theriot and put him in the shortstop mix. He is a low-cost guy and more than a serviceable player. He went to the Giants with an incentive-laden contract because GM Brian Sabean knows you can’t have enough established middle infielders.
7. Teams are now looking for “tack-on’’ guys, the ones who “can really make you look good,’’ according to one AL assistant GM. Alfredo Aceves was one of those a year ago, and he made Theo Epstein look good. Plenty out there, like Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez, Vlad Guerrero, and, yes, even J.D. Drew, who is strongly considering retiring. The Yankees could be a fit with Raul Ibanez or Hideki Matsui. Mike Gonzalez, Chad Qualls, and Juan Cruz are all serviceable relievers. These guys can still play, and sometimes veterans get that hunger back.
8. When the Twins and Red Sox both play at home in spring training, the games will have different starting times to help alleviate the traffic, since their parks are on the same street.
9. Lou Piniella has left the Giants and will be back in the TV booth with the Yankees’ YES Network for all things Tampa. He wants to stay in Tampa, close to his family.
10. The Cubs and Red Sox will soon meet with a representative of the Commissioner’s Office or the commissioner himself to discuss the Epstein compensation issue. The best school of thought on this comes from an AL GM who is not associated with either team: “I think the commissioner will give the Red Sox a significant player. I don’t think MLB wants executives leaving their teams before their contracts are up and therefore he will try to deter teams from doing that again.’’
From the Bill Chuck files: “Among pitchers with at least 120 career decisions and exactly a .500 record, Carlos Silva (70-70) has the worst ERA at 4.68, followed by Edwin Jackson (60-60) at 4.46.’’ Also, “Over the last 10 seasons, only three players who qualified for the batting title have struck out fewer than 100 times each season: Ichiro Suzuki, Albert Pujols, and Damon . . . Happy birthday, Dick Mills (67) and Bob Bolin (73).